As social norms shattered Erum Baloch’s dreams of becoming a professional hockey player, she became even more determined to build an environment where the dreams of many girls could come true.
For many girls in Jacobabad, sports remain taboo and a source of stigma. “It was very difficult for me to proceed,” Baloch told Arab News. “Girls could not join sports.”
But in 2017, when she was only 23, she established the Stars Women Hockey Academy Jacobabad. The club she and her friends founded from their own savings was the first such academy for women in the region.
“It became my dream to establish a hockey academy so that girls who wanted to play would not find themselves in the situations like those that I faced,” Baloch said.
Orphaned by her father at the age of four, and having lost her only brother to a bomb blast in 2015, Baloch found all support in her mother, Asifa Begum, who allowed her to pursue the childhood dream in hopes that it could heal her from trauma.
“My son’s death was a tragedy for the whole family. One way for Erum to come out of it was to concentrate on her childhood dream of running a hockey club,” Begum said.
“Despite pressure from extended family and friends, I let her do what she wanted.” In the beginning, it was not easy. “People were not mentally prepared for how girls play, so they started creating hurdles. Many also threatened us. But we didn’t stop,” Baloch said.
Overcoming the obstacles
While the girls struggled to find a pitch, they were eventually permitted to play at a sports ground of a girl’s college. They still spend their own savings on the club but recently have also started to receive small donations to keep the academy running.
Eighteen of their players have been participating in provincial and national-level tournaments, including Nabeela Bhayo, 21, one of the co-founding members of the club, who now plays for the provincial Sindh Hockey Team as a goalkeeper.
Bhayo is also one of the four Jacobabad girl hockey players who were admitted to study at Punjab University under its sports quota in 2019 and completed her Master of Commerce degree.
“Back home, people are so conservative that they object to us wearing sports trousers and shirts,” she told Arab News. “I am thankful that my family is supportive.” Bhayo has found the biggest supporter in her father, Nabeel Bhayo, who says it is an honor for him that his daughter is representing Jacobabad on the national level.
He has also been advocating among other parents to let their daughters play sports and achieve something in their lives. “Jacobabad is a highly conservative area,” he said. “My daughter and her club members are breaking the taboo.”
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